Just watch me? Just watch out.
That’s the message from Premier Doug Ford when asked about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau potentially invoking federal emergency legislation to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, used the old War Measures Act during the 1970 October Crisis amid Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) terrorist fears, a move that remains controversial a half-century later.
While the current prime minister has resisted using what is now known as the Emergencies Act, which would restrict civil liberties, Ford warned doing so “wouldn’t go over too well, not just with me, with all 12 other premiers.” The War Measures Act was replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988.
“That’s not their jurisdiction. We don’t need the nanny state telling us what to do. We understand our provinces,” the premier said Thursday during a campaign-style swing to a Hamilton shipyard.
“He’d have a kick back like he’s never seen from not just me, from every single premier, that just wouldn’t fly,” he said.
Ford emphasized he has been working “extremely well with the prime minister” and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland since COVID-19 struck Canada in March.
“All the ministers are in constant communication. That’s the way you get things done … not by … implementing restrictions and the feds telling us what to do.”
Any federal intervention would be “crossing the boundary,” the premier added.
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“There’s one thing I understand about all the premiers is stick within your own jurisdiction.”
When invoked, the act gives the federal cabinet the right to take control of powers that are normally provincial or municipal.
On Tuesday, Trudeau emphasized he has been working closely with the provincial and territorial leaders.
“I’ve had … over 20 first ministers meetings since the beginning of this pandemic. The issue of the Emergencies Act has come up a number of times and I’ve continued to reassure them that I don’t see it as being necessary right now,” he said.
“I know that all Canadians are united in wanting to fight this pandemic. I know that all premiers are thinking about the health of their citizens as well as they think about the health of their economy and that’s why I’m confident we’re going to be able to continue to work together well and do the right things.”
Fifty years ago, at the urging of Quebec premier Robert Bourassa and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, the elder Trudeau invoked martial law after the FLQ kidnapped provincial cabinet minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross.
Laporte was killed and his body found in a car trunk two days after the War Measures Act was implemented. Cross was released after two months as a hostage.
Last month, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet demanded the younger Trudeau apologize for his father’s actions, which led to hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detainments during the crisis.
In 1970, the then prime minister famously said “just watch me,” when CBC reporter Tim Ralfe pressed him on how far he would go to deal with the FLQ terrorist threat.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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